CAMP ZAMA, Japan – U.S. Army Japan held its first-ever Women, Peace and Security symposium here this week to highlight the need for women to play a more significant role in defense sectors.
The three-day event, which ends Wednesday, had speakers, panel discussions and breakout sessions to promote a gendered perspective and women’s equal involvement in decision-making.
A diverse group of U.S. and Japanese representatives from the military, self-defense forces, governments and civil society agencies participated.
Maj. Gen. JB Vowell, commander of USARJ, began the symposium Monday inside the Camp Zama Community Club and said advancing WPS was not only the right thing to do, but also a smart thing to do.
“Your attendance in these next several days demonstrates your commitment to championing women’s participation within the defense sectors,” he told attendees, “and an enthusiasm to improve partnerships at all facets of interoperability within the U.S. and Japan security alliance.”
Vowell said the knowledge gleaned from the symposium will make those in the audience “sharper thinkers,” helping them be better prepared to solve complex problems in the Indo-Pacific theater.
“This is something that our potential adversaries in the region don’t have,” he said. “They want what we have together — our friendship, our partnership and our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Madeeha Mehmood, chief of the USARJ Political-Military Division who also helped organize the event, said they sought to capture an array of viewpoints from attendees, which included female and male officers, noncommissioned officers and civilians.
“We were very intentional to have both men and women here,” she said, “because it’s … not a problem that only women should be solving, but something that we solve together.”
WPS is a policy framework, which stems from a 2000 U.N. Security Council resolution, that recognizes women must be critical actors in all efforts to achieve international peace and security, according to the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Mehmood said she appreciated USARJ leadership and the Indo-Pacific Command’s WPS Office for supporting this year’s symposium after Fifth Air Force held a similar one at Yokota Air Base last year.
“When support comes from the top, it really makes everyone take it very seriously,” she said.
The biggest takeaway she hoped participants would get from the event was for them to start thinking about how they can use a gender perspective and WPS in their own work.
“We’re hoping for a very honest and frank conversation among the attendees,” she said Monday, “but also because these are the people that are going to go back and actually apply this in their day-to-day operations.”
Mehmood said women have views and experiences that, while valuable, are not typically considered.
“Women have a lot to offer,” she said. “So they really just need a voice. And they need to be at the table and they need to be in the decision-making processes.”
Rahm Emanuel, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, said in his recorded remarks during the event that societies are successful when there is full participation from women.
“No nation can be strong, stable or secure if half that nation is unheard, underrepresented or undervalued,” he said. “Good governments propose policies that protect everyone enshrined with the same sacred title — citizen.”
The ambassador then credited America and Japan for having a shared interest in empowering women, but noted that more can always be done.
“Opening more doors of opportunity for women and girls is morally and clearly right,” he said. “Gender equality is a strategic opportunity.”
The symposium reminded Vowell of a realization he had while serving as an infantry task force commander in Afghanistan in 2010.
Vowell recalled that women were usually not present when Soldiers held meetings with village elders.
In one of those meetings in a village near the Pakistan border, the male elders told Soldiers that the top need in their community was for a new well to be dug since access to water was 500 meters away in another village.
Meanwhile, Soldiers had another meeting with the women of the village who said water access was not an issue. The women, who retrieved the water every day, explained that textbooks and materials for a new school that was built was the real challenge for the community.
“We learned that you sometimes get half of the story in these official meetings. In this case, it was an entire gender that was left out of the discussion,” Vowell said. “I learned a very important lesson about being inclusive and this tactical example … brought to my mind how important it is to have a variety of thought in the room.”